Tasting 17 Viogniers from South Africa is not something you get to experience every day. With references from France, Australia and Italy, it veered towards the new world packed with fruit and sunshine and tasting on a flower day; according to the Biodynamic calendar, some Viogniers indeed rode the wave of their innate floral and aromatic qualities.
Albeit promising with the provocative aromatics Viognier is known for, it’s a category that the judges felt is not thoroughly explored in South Africa to draw up a clear identity kit of what the winemakers want to achieve, somewhat lacking in quality and varietal typicity, says chair Samarie Smith. However, having had the opportunity to spend enough time with the wines and return to them, the wines that achieved gold truly deserved it. The top wines were awarded for varietal expression and superb balance, reflecting what Viognier can be in South Africa.
And the Viognier winners and medalists are…
WINNER: Alvi’s Drift Signature Viognier 2021
- Idiom Viognier 2019
- Ridgeback Viognier 2021
- Axe Hill Tant Lenie 2021
- De Grendel Viognier 2021
- Eerste Hoop Viognier 2021
- Flagstone Word of Mouth Viognier 2020
- The Fledge Jikken Barrels “Redemption of a Rogue” Elgin Viognier 2020
- Kleinood Tamboerskloof Viognier 2021
- La Couronne Franschhoek 1688 Viognier 2018
- Mitre’s Edge Viognier 2021
- Mont du Toit La Colline Viognier 2021
- Vrede en Lust Viognier 2021
On appearance, the wines were predominantly bright and clear, some deeper in colour, showing the stylistic preference of oak to using no oak at all. On aromatics, it varied from shy and austere to pronounced aromas of fleshy peach, apricot and tangerine with its quintessential floral and spicy aromas like elderflower, ginger and nutmeg. More complex examples and higher scoring wines showed a great balance of primary and secondary aromas with more layers of nut and warm spice arresting the senses.
Due to the nature of the grape with lower acidity and higher pH, it was noticeable that some wines had significant acid additions. These wines came across harsh, slightly metallic and tart, derailing some innate oily, beeswax characteristic that adds mouthfeel. In addition, some being too stern and linear upset the finesse of what could potentially have been a very delicate wine.
Some wines had higher alcohols that gave a burning, almost fortified sensation, which added bitterness. However, where the alcohol was balanced, its viscosity added palate weight without the overtly phenolic bitterness seen in the past.
Viognier wild cards
Besides the apparent aromatics, there were also some wild cards, pleasantly so, with aromas of wet stone, earth and khakibos, more mineral than aromatic and relatively lean.
Well-balanced wines had perfumed aromatics congruent with an equally expressive and creamy palate. Good examples embraced the varietals affinity with a hint of sugar, judicious use of oak adding more nuances of vanilla and pastry, balanced with adequate acidity and alcohol adding length and definition. Oak contributed to texture and mouthfeel, yet in some cases, overpowered the fruit.
Prone to uneven ripening posing challenges in the vineyards, winemakers need to pay attention to freshness and alcohol levels to make a competing, stand-out Viognier. Top-scoring wines had generous, even quirky aromatics, with good palate weight, intensity, and complexity.
On the other hand, wine scoring silver lacked the definition and ultimately fine-tuned balance to score 90+, but it still makes for a delicious drink. “The best wine will always be where its alcohol, acidity, and fruit are successfully balanced, allowing it to flaunt its unique attributes.”
The Viognier Challenge, organised by Events by Celia aims to shine the light on the smaller varieties like Viognier. The competition is run professionally and according to the international standards. The aim is to do this at the least expense to the wineries and there is no expectation of extra stock other than the two bottles delivered for the judging.